Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Hereditary (2018)

MAY 31, 2018

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL, SUPERNATURAL (?)
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PRESS SCREENING)

Like its fellow A24 genre films (The Witch, It Comes At Night), some folks are debating whether or not Hereditary is "really" a horror movie, which is a ridiculous waste of time because yes, it is. I suspect these arguments always begin with some stuffy critic who liked the film and feels ashamed to be recommending something in the same genre that gave us Freddy vs. Jason or whatever, or (on the other end of the spectrum) some numbskull horror fan who can't bring himself to qualify a film as one unless it's loaded with gore. As a fan of the genre and all of its potential I find it insulting, but if you are sadly someone who thought The Witch wasn't horror (I myself can go either way with It Comes At Night) then you'll likely have some of the same issues here, and should probably stay home and watch something that fits within your depressingly narrow guidelines.

Of course, the best way to experience the film is to not know anything at all, not even what genre it might be under in the virtual video store someday. The film is, at its core, about a family unit being undone by a series of incidents, some of which are quite horrific in nature, and knowing about even one of those things coming will curtail its ability to fully unsettle you as it does for its characters. First time feature filmmaker Ari Aster manages to get you unnerved as soon as the film begins; nothing horrific happens for a good half hour, and I thankfully avoided its trailer and knew very little of its plot ("a woman and her family deals with the death of her mother" is all I could have told you about it), but that didn't matter. The combination of his slow moving camerawork, the exquisite production design, and the score all put me on edge - the shock moments were tension relievers, really.

In order to keep that same unawareness for you I won't say much about its specific plot (not that I usually offer much of a synopsis anyway, but you know what I mean). The film opens on the obituary listing for an elderly woman whose only immediate family member is her daughter, played by Toni Collette. Collette and her own family (Gabriel Byrne as her husband, and two teenagers) don't seem too broken up by the loss; the woman was in hospice for a while and we get the idea she wasn't exactly a cookie-baking, big-hug giving kind of granny, so it's a mix of "we knew it was coming" and "OK, see ya" kind of attitudes. So we watch them go about their day to day; the kids go to school, and the parents get back to work (Collette is an artist who makes miniature dioramas for a gallery; Byrne is a therapist of some sort) but there's a lingering feeling of dread over it, and you're just kind of waiting for something awful to happen.

And then it does, and it is indeed awful. It's one of those rare moments that's so horrific I kept assuming it was a dream, thinking no film would dare do it. It doesn't help the family unit any; Collette in particular seems to suffer a bit of a mental break as a result, diving deeper into her work, which itself takes on a grimmer tone. It's from that work that the film earns one of its biggest laughs (it's actually a fairly humorous movie at times; not a comedy, but think along the lines of how movies like Joshua used humor and you'll be on the right track), one of the best darkly comic sight gags I may have ever seen, capped off by an oblivious reaction from Collette that made me love her even more than I already did. She's one of those actresses that simply can't be "bad" or even miscast - she's always hitting it out of the park, in all genres (she's actually in another movie that comes out tomorrow called Hearts Beat Loud, and it couldn't be less like this one), and even by those standards she's terrific in this. A nomination or two would be a lock if not for the fact that it's a horror movie.

As for Byrne, he doesn't get as many highlight-y kind of moments, taking the quieter route of a man trying to keep the peace. There's a dinner scene where Collette and her son (Alex Wolff, who is really the star of the film's back half) have a blow out and he barely speaks, rather than join in and let that familiar righteous anger we've seen in other films (I mean this man has played the actual Devil) come shining through. He seems a bit older than the role might have called for in the script (in addition to being more than 20 years older than Collette, he's almost 70 in real life; the younger of their children is like 13), but it kind of helps the strange unease the movie offers throughout. In fact, none of them really look alike in any way, and I kept thinking perhaps we would find out someone was adopted, or Byrne was their stepfather or something, but nope. It's just Aster and his casting people choosing four great actors to play a family even if it might cause snickers from any DNA scientists that might have wandered into the theater.

They should be promptly told to shut the hell up, however, because the sound design on the film is as award-worthy as Collette (and, again, will likely have zero shot because the Academy just tends to nominate action movies) and is probably the best reason to see the film in a (good) theater, unless you have a real home theater (i.e. a soundproof room that won't be interrupted). The daughter, Charlie, has this vocal tic (kind of a cross between a tongue cluck and... whatever you call that thing where you put your finger on the inside of your cheek and pull it out real quick) that she uses on occasion, and it's just so perfectly "off" that I was both delighted by it and properly creeped out every time it was used. And a sudden outburst was mixed in a way that I legit thought it was coming from someone in the theater, allowing me to be as startled by it as the characters. There's also a scene where we hear a pounding, assuming it's fists, only to discover... well, it's not fists, but it IS an example of how effective a horror type moment can play with proper sound design.

So it's all well and good, in fact great, until the final half hour or so. Without spoiling any details, I will say that the more we learn about what's going on, the less invested I found myself. The unsettling dread was largely gone and replaced by people telling us what they found out from looking at old photos, which is what I expect in bad Ring ripoffs, not this kind of movie. I don't know if I'd be happier if they simply never told us why certain things were happening (or at least left it up to interpretation), but ultimately it was at odds with what was working best about the film. Not enough to cripple the movie or anything, but like I've said before, it's better to have a strong finish to a so-so opening than the other way around. And that's especially the case for a longer movie like this (it's over two hours!), where you gave it so much of your time only for it to go off the rails. Maybe down the road I will talk more about my issues with it when everyone's had a chance to see it, but for now I'll just say that I was not expecting to be reminded of a certain classic horror film in its closing moments, and would like to watch them back to back someday to see if I can figure out why it worked for one and not the other (if you see the film and aren't sure which one I mean, hit me up on Twitter or something and I'll private message you).

One thing is for sure: this movie is going to get a low Cinemascore this weekend. I'm actually kind of stunned A24 is putting it out on over 2,000 screens, figuring they would go the platform route and let word of mouth from the normals build up a bit, as opposed to selling it entirely on festival buzz. And I don't mean that as a slight; movies with low cinemascores aren't "the worst movies ever made" or whatever, they're just the most polarizing, and indeed I tend to like a lot of them (some of the F's include Soderbergh's Solaris, Killing Them Softly, and mother!). After I saw the movie I finally watched the trailer, and was dismayed to see that it not only includes two major spoilers (one of which was actually made up for the spot, via recutting some dialogue in a particular scene to tell us something we don't know until much later in the actual film) and also comes off as a sort of Insidious-y kind of haunted house movie, which it isn't at all. To be fair, it's a hard movie to promote in the usual way, as it dips its toes into several horror sub-genres and also isn't exactly packed with trailer-ready images, but that makes me wonder again why they're attempting to woo multiplex audiences. But since I didn't think the movie was perfect (for you Letterboxd devotees, I gave it 3.5), I can enjoy the bewildered takes I'm sure I'll see, without getting too worked up about it like I would if the movie was a personal favorite.

What say you?

P.S. If anyone involved with the Blu-ray is reading this, I IMPLORE you to have a piece on the production design! Both for the miniatures and the house itself, which occasionally felt off-scale like a dollhouse might.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Sweet 16 (1983)

MAY 30, 2018

GENRE: SLASHER, THRILLER
SOURCE: STREAMING (AMAZON PRIME)

I remember reading somewhere along the line that Sweet 16 was not really a slasher film, and just sort of in the vicinity of one, lumped in more for its cast (Friday the 13th Part 3's Dana Kimmell stars, and a few years later co-star Don Shanks would play Michael Myers, which didn't help the somewhat erroneous association) than its body count or vibe. So I kind of wanted to see it out of curiosity, but never put much effort into it - I sure as hell wasn't gonna blind buy it or anything like that. But it's on Amazon Prime now, and I pay like 100 bucks a year for the damn service and rarely use it outside of the "free" shipping (I gotta check to see if I'm getting $100 worth of free shipping every year...), so I figured I'd finally see what all the non-fuss was about.

Ironically, I found it more slasher-y than expected! Sure, it doesn't quite fit the mold of the era, but it's got a body count of I think five (Halloween's count!), a whodunit approach, and even a dumb sequel setup ending. But it's also missing a number of the key ingredients, particularly a proper Final Girl; Kimmell's character spends most of her screentime trying to take after her sheriff father (Bo Hopkins) and solve the case, only to sit out the entire climax while Hopkins solves the mystery himself. And since the killer is only targeting dudes that hit on the other main girl, Melissa (she's the one turning sixteen, with the climax being at her eponymous birthday party), she's also never on the killer's radar. That along with the lack of any chases keeps it from full on slasher territory, in my opinion, but I wouldn't throw a fit if it was in between Splatter University and Terror Train on someone's shelf.

Actually, what it REALLY feels like is a giallo more than anything else, albeit without the style. With the POV kill scenes (as opposed to a masked/costumed killer one could see and say "Oh, the Sweet 16 killer!") and occasionally icky moments, I found myself thinking about those films than Happy Birthday to Me or whatever. For starters, like most gialli it's impossible to discern the motive until someone shows up at the end and tells us about some buried secret, unlike a slasher where even if you don't know who the killer is you know what their deal is (i.e. My Bloody Valentine - whoever the Miner is, he doesn't like people celebrating Valentine's Day). And then when we do hear the motive it sounds very much like any number of Italian films, with the killer trying to work through some childhood trauma by offing everyone that reminds them of someone in their past, in this case their father. In fact, I recently watched an actual giallo called Eye in the Labyrinth that more or less had that same idea, oddly enough. In place of those older films' rampant misogyny we get some racial discomfort, with people suspecting a local Native American man (Shanks) as the killer simply because he's an Indian, and the local good ol' boys have some choice attitudes towards him even before the murders start. So if you ever wanted to see what a Texan giallo was like, you should check this out.

Anyway I kind of enjoyed it. The mystery is pretty good; I didn't peg the killer until it was revealed, which is always a plus (as long as it's not a cheat, that is) and again it had a couple more kills than I was expecting, changing the suspect pool. It's a shame that Kimmell's character didn't do more of the sleuthing, however, especially in the back half where it becomes pretty clear that Hopkins couldn't possibly be the killer, canceling out a perfectly good suspect and a potentially interesting plot point. If her dad WAS the killer, she'd have to choose between her only parent (the mom is deceased) and some strangers, which would have been interesting to see play out. Then again, I don't think she's the best actress in the world so perhaps it's better in the long run for the movie to not give her too much of the movie's heavy lifting. Plus it's funny to watch Hopkins going through microfiche as he solves the mystery, while the lab tech who is in love with him practically throws herself at him non-stop even though he barely seems to notice.

As for Melissa, it's odd - the plot revolves around her, but she's kind of a secondary character. She's introduced as a sort of vixen/troublemaker, i.e. the kind of girl who might end up getting killed early on (think Laura Palmer), but then she softens a bit after people start dying, for reasons that don't have much of a payoff. The thing is, she never really has any scenes to herself besides a shower scene that's inserted for no real reason (and is a bit of an eyebrow raiser since the character is only 15 - the actress was 20 in real life, but still), so it's kind of hard to get a real grasp on her or even see her as the major character the plot insists she is. We spend more time watching Hopkins be a cop than anything else; hell I think Michael Pataki as the town's mayor might even have more screentime, even though he ultimately doesn't have anything to do with the narrative. Sure, we need red herrings in a movie like this, but when they come at the expense of developing a primary character, it's not the best maneuver.

Ultimately it's the kind of movie I'm glad I didn't see until I was an adult; had I rented it when I first heard about it at age 13 or so, I probably would have been bored/disappointed with the lack of kills. But now that I am more familiar with gialli and also simply more patient, I could mostly get on board with its low-key approach to the material. It's got a great mix of young faces and character actors (in addition to Hopkins and Pataki, you got Susan Strasberg and Patrick Macnee as Melissa's parents) and just enough action to keep it from being the "Lifetime Thriller" type film it often resembles. Like the other day's Girls Nite Out, it's a "slasher completionists only" kinda deal, but for different reasons. Basically: it's fine.

What say you?

P.S. If you don't have Amazon Prime, you can also see the movie on Pluto TV, a free service that mimics a cable lineup. Only downside is that their ad breaks are inserted at random, sometimes mid-sentence, so it can be an off-putting viewing experience (not to mention annoying since the ads repeat a lot). But hey, it's free, so you get what you pay for.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Girl's Nite Out (1982)

MAY 25, 2018

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: STREAMING (YOUTUBE)

As slasher plots go, setting a killer loose on a group of college kids engaged in an all night scavenger hunt is a pretty solid one, and as slasher costumes go, putting your murderer in a goofy bear mascot outfit (complete with googly eyes) is pretty much the dumbest idea. Girl's Nite Out (aka The Scaremaker) does both, which alone would make it if nothing else one of the weirder entries in the slasher canon's golden era, but the movie goes a step further with a third act that defies any conventional wisdom about body count flicks, elevating a quirky but ultimately forgettable slasher into "You have to see this goddamn thing" territory for slasher aficionados. Everyone else should probably steer clear, though.

Despite the promising setup, for an hour or so the movie is just another weak slasher from the twilight of the slasher boom. The pacing is particularly damaging; the scavenger game doesn't even start for over forty minutes, forcing you to endure an endless party scene, a basketball game, the Final Girl's boyfriend Teddy's endless wooing of another woman before things finally get slashy. To be fair there are a couple of quick kills to tide us over until that point, but the first is of a gravedigger and seems like it was possibly added later to get another kill in, and the second is actually kind of a dumb move, as it's of Benson, the guy who usually wears the mascot costume. Why they'd cancel out a good red herring in a whodunit is beyond me; my only guess is that they were going for a "show the bomb under the table" vibe for all the subsequent scenes where someone sees the killer and thinks it's Benson, but for the most part he attacks almost as soon as they see him, and he never once uses his "in" to get someone alone (think Terror Train when he takes out Mitchy). As much as the movie needed some action in its first half, I would have rather they sprung his death as a surprise on us later.

Then again it's not particularly difficult to figure out who the killer is, since the performer is someone you'll probably recognize and they only appear in a couple of inconsequential early scenes, so as soon as you think "Hey where's ____? Why would they hire them to play that random?" you'll instantly realize you know exactly why - so they can turn up later as the killer (I've referred to this as "Orser's Rule", after actor Leland Orser, who showed up as an anonymous technician in Bone Collector, a rule otherwise beneath him at that point, making the film's mystery a complete non-starter). I won't spoil their identity for those who might not recognize the actor or actress, but I have more to say about the film's climax, so skip the next paragraph if you want to be as charmingly confused as I was.

So once the killing gets started, the movie becomes a pretty normal slasher (save for the goofy costume), as the murderer offs all of the girls playing the game while leaving the men alone (not that many of them seem to be playing anyway). The killer's weapon is cool at least - a homemade "bear claw" made out of knives taped together in between the fingers (so, basically a cheap version of Freddy's glove, but keep in mind this film predated Wes Craven's by two years), and there's some decent stalk and slash action in this 20-30 minute chunk of the film, if not quite enough to make up for its interminable first half. But then things go a bit haywire once our heroine Lynn (Julia Montgomery) finds the body of one of her friends and calls the cops... because they actually show up! And then we watch them interrogate the male characters for ten minutes, at a point in the film where we should be watching our killer chase her around for a while before she unmasks them and they explain themselves before chasing her again. The game is called off, and everyone goes home while we watch people get questioned and ruled out.

And it gets weirder, as Lynn goes home and we suddenly switch focus to Dawn, the girl Teddy cheated on her with. After Dawn's own boyfriend throws her out for her cheating ways, she realizes the killer is watching her and she runs to the nearest phone to call Teddy, who is trying to comfort Lynn, still upset about the whole "finding the dead friend" thing (I don't think she knows about the cheating). Teddy races off to help her, only to find her attacked/dying already, and then the unmasked killer steps out unceremoniously and stabs him, just as the head of campus security (Hal Holbrook!) shows up and calmly explains that he knows they're the killer. The killer rambles a bit, reveals another corpse behind them, and... it goes to credits. Teddy and Dawn's fates are left unresolved, Holbrook never makes any attempt to arrest/subdue the killer, and our would-be heroine Lynn is left out of the climax entirely. I was so delighted by the rule breaking that I now kind of love the movie despite being bored through more than half of it.

I wish I knew for sure that this unusual approach to a slasher movie's final reel was intentional, a way to throw the audience off after they've gotten so accustomed to how these things work after the past couple years. But sadly, I suspect the wonkiness was just the result of the film's unfortunate production schedule, in which the cast and crew allegedly had to shoot most of the movie over a weekend as they were using an active college campus and couldn't be disrupting normal activity. So it's possible that they didn't get to shoot everything and had to make do with what they had, even if it meant not having an actual ending for their movie. This would also explain the lethargic pace and endless scenes of little importance - they probably didn't have much, if anything, to cut to in order to pare down scenes (many of which are indeed single takes of two people talking), and if they cut these flab scenes entirely the film wouldn't be long enough to get released. And they probably wanted to use every bit of footage they had of Holbrook, who spends all but one of his scenes alone in his shots as they probably only had him for a few hours. Whenever he interacts with another character, there's nothing to establish them both in a single shot or even a body double to show how far apart they are or anything like that, resulting in more than one awkwardly staged conversation (the first time we see him is particularly clunky, as he seems spliced in from another movie entirely).

Now, all of this stuff will be amusing to slasher fans who are used to the basic template, but if you're a casual horror fan with no specific affinity for the sub-genre, you'll probably just see this as a stiff, bad movie. So I want to be clear that I only really recommend it to the people who live and breath these things, who can identify which movie a Jason mask is from based on its markings and things like that. In fact, Friday fans in particular will appreciate the movie more than the average bear, as Part 2's Lauren-Marie Taylor (of "The one with the puck" fame) appears as one of the non-Final Girls (who is apparently having an affair with her second cousin), and her death scene is one of the film's most memorable. As for me, I'm hellbent on seeing every slasher movie ever made, and I only just heard about the movie this week, so I hope my quest continues to uncover these oddities and make it all worthwhile. My usual stance is that if you've never heard of a movie in a genre you're particularly interested in there's probably a good reason - I hope I am proven wrong again (and again) in the future.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Bad Samaritan (2018)

MAY 4, 2018

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

As the credits rolled on Bad Samaritan, one of the four other people in the theater - the only one who didn't bolt as soon as the credits began - turned to me and said "Well that wasn't very good, was it?" I agree with her, but even if I didn't, I'd be tickled by the encounter, as it's very rare that a stranger will offer their opinion to me in the middle of a theater (or anywhere, for that matter), but then again it's very rare you can see such a nothing movie like this on the big screen. How it escaped the VOD hell it deserved to get a 2,000 screen release is beyond me, but in a way it's kind of charming to see a movie with almost no stars, a bare minimum of action, and a generic plot playing in an auditorium adjacent to the newest Avengers (which I could occasionally hear through the walls, as daring me to switch theaters).

The plot is sort of combined from Marcus Dunstan's films The Neighbor and The Collector. Our protagonist goes into a house intending to rob it (Collector) and finds a woman chained up (Neighbor), because it turns out the owner (David Tennant) wasn't just some rich douchebag, but he's also a psycho. However he is unable to free her (she's chained up, the chains bolted to the floor) so he runs out and calls the cops, but unfortunately - as is often the case - the bad guy cleans up all of the evidence by the time the cops get there to investigate. That's not the worst idea for a movie by any means - it's always fun to see a criminal go up against a bigger criminal, torn between covering his own ass and doing the right thing - but director/producer Dean Devlin and screenwriter Brandon Boyce do that thing where they seemingly WANT to make every wrong choice possible over the course of their film, keeping it from ever being as thrilling or even as stupidly trashy as it could be. Instead, it's just a giant slog; it takes nearly an hour for Tennant to target our thieving "hero" (Robert Sheehan) and start making his life a mess, and then another 30 minutes for Sheehan to finally start fighting back.

But even if they arrived at this in half the time, it'd still be a misfire, since Tennant's got a weird escalation for his villainy. In a span of less than ten minutes he hacks into Sheehan's Facebook account and dumps his girlfriend via wall post ("It's over, bitch" - LOL), then gets his parents fired from their jobs (OK, not funny, but still rather benign), then... he appears out of nowhere, repeatedly slamming the girlfriend's head into a wall before throwing her over a railing and leaving her for dead. It's the most violent act we see in the film, against a character who was already kind of written out, so it's unjustified on a narrative level and just plain bad on a tonal one. His MO is to "break" people the way one breaks a horse (and yes, this is an actual line in the movie; one of two times I laughed out loud at how dumb something was), but when most of what he's doing is ruining other people's lives I'm not sure how it's supposed to break Sheehan - it just fires him up to get back at him, since he's not really doing much to him directly. Tennant busts up the kid's shitty old Volkswagen, but it never has any effect on his ability to get around - and later he inexplicably leaves his Maserati just sitting there for the kid to take anyway!

Tennant, by the way, is the only reason to watch the movie. The horse breaking stuff is ridiculous enough to amuse, and he seems to be enjoying playing a douchey psycho, screaming like Nic Cage in a few scenes and donning phony accents in others when he has to set Sheehan up for this or that go nowhere subplot. For example he poses as a neighbor to report a break-in when he knows Sheehan and his partner in thieving are going back into the house to try to rescue the girl (or at least find some proof that she was/is there), but they run away before being caught. Worse, when a detective stops by later, he sees the window they used to break in and treats it as if it's some unusual thing - and weirder still, Tennant lies and says he broke the window himself? Why? The cops were already there for the break-in, i.e. it's on the record, so why is he covering it up? And why didn't the detective put that together in the first place? I guess it doesn't matter, because despite being established as the doubting authority figure who will eventually become our hero's ally (and possibly killed), the detective just walks out of that scene and the movie as a whole, never mentioned again. Every single scene with him could have been deleted and it'd have no bearing on the plot.

It would improve the runtime, however. If this thing was like 80 minutes it MIGHT qualify as "silly dumb timekiller" material, but if you got two hours to kill you should be watching something legitimately good, or playing a game, reading a book, etc. The last 15 minutes or so are delightfully stupid at times, and there's a legitimately great line courtesy of Kerry Condon (the trapped girl), but it takes too damn long to get there, with almost nothing even remotely as amusing to tide us over until that point. Tennant blows up his own house for no discernible reason (Devlin must be trying to work Emmerich out of his system), but other than that there's no real action or anything, just a few scattered moments of out of nowhere violence. It's so hard to find payoffs too; Tennant puts a tracker on the kid's car, but only uses it once before just destroying the car anyway. We get a followup scene with a family they robbed prior to Tennant (they run a valet service at a restaurant; if someone lives close enough they take the car back to the person's home, access it, grab some stuff that won't be noticed right away, and return the car before the owners finish eating), suggesting that these people might keep coming back to haunt them in some way, but nah (I later learned the actress playing the mom in the family is Devlin's wife, so I guess he just wanted to give her another scene even if it had no purpose). It's almost like the editor worked backwards, taking what could have been an OK-ish movie and adding things back in until it was just a messy chore.

I'm also baffled that it's being pushed as a horror film (I went in fully expecting a thriller, for the record - its horror-free state had no bearing on my disliking of the film), as it even skirts over most of the thriller elements. Tennant is said to have done this before, and we see a corpse in a pit, but otherwise his more sadistic/serial killer-y actions are left not just offscreen but unused at all. We see a torture room of sorts in his garage, but it's never used and he even takes it all down before the cops show up, so it doesn't even function as a possible destination for one of our heroes. Condon's character has a few injuries but it's never shown how she got them - she's already been kidnapped when the film begins and we spend so much time on Sheehan and Tennant that she is left on the sidelines for large chunks of it, another thing the movie botches since the climax is about her rescue and yet I still wasn't entirely sure of her name. The R rating is pretty much just for language and an isolated shot of a breast; the few acts of on-screen violence are brief. Hell they don't even have any good cat and mouse stuff between the two leads - except for a brief scene where Tennant enters Sheehan's home while he's showering, the two are never in the same space until the final few minutes. There's rarely a reason to even get tense, let alone scared, and the marketing folks are doing no favors trying to sell it to the genre crowd.

They do get one thing right, however: use of technology. Sheehan scores a major victory at one point, getting a shot of Tennant in the act because his friend accidentally pressed the "video call" when fumbling with his phone on a regular call, which I myself have done several times. When he hacks into Facebook, it's actual Facebook, not some poorly mocked up variation, and Sheehan uses Photoshop to boost the contrast and invert the colors of a picture, letting him see an address on a checkbook (as opposed to the usual "enhance!" bullshit where someone gets a perfectly clear image of something that was probably like 10 pixels wide on the original). Tennant also has a "smart house", and while some of it is ludicrous (why would a table fan have bluetooth tech?), I can attest to how slow a Ring type device can be to show you a live image when you request it - the one I got after a few packages disappear often shows me a frame or two of the mailman walking away, too slow to record them actually walking up to my door and leaving the package. For some reason they didn't want to trust Google Maps, however - after Sheehan gets that address, and he's unsure of where the town is, he doesn't just click over on the very computer he's using to see where it is/how far a drive it will be - he moves over to the giant map of Oregon that his 14-ish brother has on his wall and finds it that way. Maybe that's why Devlin made so many alien movies - perhaps he is one, and is just unaware of how human beings actually act? It'd certainly explain the scene where an entire classroom seemingly has their notifications turned on for Sheehan's wall posts even though it's established he doesn't even go to the school.

Oh well. It's not the first time I've seen an interesting concept botched (hell, Boyce has been previously guilty of it - he wrote the thrill-free thriller Wicker Park), and I'm sure it won't be the last. Maybe someday someone will edit a third of the movie out and let it stand as an amusing diversion for Tennant's fans (I should note I never watched Doctor Who and the only thing I know him from is the Fright Night remake, which was even worse than this), but until then I wouldn't even recommend it as the VOD rental it should have been in the first place. In retrospect I should have moved seats to sit with that older lady; maybe we could have MST3k'd it and salvaged the two hours.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Endless (2017)

MAY 2, 2018

GENRE: CULT
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

If you read my book (hint hint) you'll recall that the first movie in each chapter is representative of that month's particular sub-genre; the idea being that if you were to just watch those twelve movies (having not heard of them before, or at least never inclined to watch) you'd hopefully agree the book would have been worth your time/money. Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson's Resolution got that "coveted" slot for its month (October, which was "horror-adjacent" films), and I was just as big of a fan of their followup, Spring, so it's fair to say I was quite excited for their newest film, The Endless, which has been playing in limited release for a couple weeks now. Alas I only just now found time to go see it, at the non-ideal time of 10pm on a weeknight, i.e. practically a guarantee I'd fall asleep especially considering its 110+ minute runtime - but I stayed awake!

I mean I could just end the review right there; longtime readers shouldn't need to be sold any further on the film's merits ("If Collins stayed awake, this must be worth checking out!"), but for you new readers I guess I'll do my due diligence and get into things like "plot" and "characters". Ya jerks.

I didn't know much about the film beforehand, only that it had something to do with a cult and that it featured Benson and Moorhead in the lead roles, playing their cult characters from Resolution (if you haven't seen that one, I assure you it's not 100% essential, though it will give you a little more context and appreciation for at least one development later in this film). We only met them briefly in Resolution, giving a low-key pitch for their cult to that film's hero Mike, but when we pick up with them here they've left the cult and are trying to adjust to a normal life in Los Angeles, working as housekeepers and trying to keep the bills paid. When Aaron (they use their real first names, though they play brothers, hopefully keeping the idea that they're "playing themselves" at bay) receives a tape in the mail from one of his old "commune" friends, he goads Justin to paying them a visit and see how they're doing.

One might find this a rather ludicrous idea, but it actually works. The hook is that Justin was the one who really wanted to leave and kind of dragged his brother away from a life that almost kind of suited him, and since their outside life is shit there isn't much of an argument he can make for it besides "out here things might get better". Justin finally agrees to go more or less hoping Aaron, now older, will see it for the joke that it is (or that it's just too weird) and finally let go of it so he can blossom in the real world, but obviously things don't go as planned. Aaron starts getting easily swayed back into the fold (having Callie Hernandez instigating things probably doesn't hurt; I'd follow her into a cult sight unseen, let alone one I already had a connection to) while Justin becomes increasingly aware that things there can't be easily explained away by "they're crazy/brainwashed".

I won't say much more about what happens, only that it's very much in line with the unique brand of unsettling but also occasionally funny sort of things that peppered Resolution (so, if you hated that movie, I'd steer clear of this one, but know that I pity you). Again, seeing the earlier film isn't a necessity, but since Aaron and Justin were clearly in the same area as that film's Mike and Chris, it's a foregone conclusion that they'd be plagued by some of the same phenomena, some of which sheds light on the other film's mysteries. Not everything is explained (from either film), but again it doesn't matter - the real drive of the film is seeing these two guys work through their issues with each other and hopefully come out of the situation OK. The two filmmakers have been working together for almost a decade (more? I'm just going off IMDb's historical record) and their brotherly bond comes across throughout the film, and so it's easy to not worry too much about how the tape got sent to them or what that one weird thing we saw was and focus more on their current dilemma, hoping they can escape together or at least find their peace if they do end up going their separate ways. Unlike Resolution, the other characters we meet get fleshed out a bit, becoming people that could be in their own spinoff film (the Resolution Cinematic Universe?). In that film everyone that wasn't Mike or Chris only really appeared once, if memory serves, but here we get to know a few of the cult members and learn a little bit about their deal. I was particularly intrigued with Hal (Tate Ellington), the leader of the group who is patient with Justin's eye-rolling and, at times, almost seems a bit jealous of his ability to walk away from it all. I don't know if it was intentional or just me reading into it, but I kept getting the impression he was about five seconds from asking Justin if he could hitch a ride with them when they left, only to refrain out of some kind of guilt (for the other people) or fear, akin to convicts fearing their parole. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that they aren't just weirdos in the woods and that there is something definitely supernatural/otherworldly going on, and that also adds another layer to it - it's not that he's afraid he's wrong, it's that he's afraid because he knows he's right.

It helps that there's nothing outwardly evil about the cult. Justin says they castrate members, but this turns out to be a lie he told just to get Aaron to leave with him. They're not branded (so it's better than the one Chloe from Smallville ran!) or anything like that - they just live out in the woods, making beer, and have a few unusual rituals. Ultimately it's not really ABOUT the cult, but I think it really works in the film's favor that an audience member watching could kind of see the appeal (whereas if you're watching, say, The Sacrament, and thinking it's a good deal - seek help). My position on all religions - even Scientology to a degree - is that as long as you're not harming anyone, you should always go with the one that gives you the peace you seek, and who cares if it may look/sound weird to an "outsider"? By refraining from any kind of "drink the Kool-aid" kind of insanity, there's no real reason to look down on Aaron for wanting to stay behind; we only fear for his wellbeing due to the strange things that are in the area, independent of the group.

Speaking of fear, overall this is even less of a traditional horror film than their others; if not for the "sequel" status for a previously reviewed film I probably wouldn't count it as one at all, really. It's got a couple of jolts and some undeniably creepy moments (the guy in the tent, gah!), but when compared to cult-based horror like Race with the Devil or Starry Eyes it's closer to drama territory. Perhaps that's due to the fact it's twenty minutes longer than its predecessor but has about the same number of incidents, so they're just more spread out? It's not a mark against the film at all - I gave it 4 stars on Letterboxd, if that helps - but if you thought Resolution had no business in the horror section and were "let down" because of it, then it's probably best to skip this one.

Everyone else, enjoy! It's doing really well in limited release, so hopefully it'll lead to something bigger for the pair next time out. There are a couple instances in the film where the small budget was taking a toll on its visuals; nothing that should lessen your enjoyment or anything (I've seen worse in movies that cost literally 100x as much), but it got me wondering what they might do with a bigger budget - just not one that was so big they'd have to lose their voice in the process. Maybe a Blumhouse "Tilt" joint or something along those lines? But even if they shoot movies on their phone in their own homes I'm sure they will be interesting and worth checking out - they're three for three in my book, which is kind of extraordinary nowadays as I've seen so many filmmakers (particularly filmmaking teams) impress with their first film and never measure up again (cough, Bustillo/Maury, cough). Good job, gents.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

I'm Not Dead!

Hey guys, quick update to assure you I'm alive! I know HMAD's been quieter than normal, but that's because I went to the Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans! It was great, and of course I saw a lot of movies. And I DID review some, but for BirthMoviesDeath, because... well, they pay me, and HMAD does not since the boss* is an asshole. So if you're in the mood for some of my ramblings, head HERE for the reviews I wrote of fest films! I'll have a proper HMAD update this week, promise.

*The boss is also me.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Truth Or Dare (2018)

APRIL 13, 2018

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

As I've mentioned before (and yet some of you insist I am lying!), I am not a teenaged girl, so my opinion on films like Truth or Dare* should be of little concern to its target audience or its makers. That said, I found it fairly enjoyable and - relative to its sub-genre, not to horror as a whole - rather impressive in some ways, putting it above the films it will probably play alongside at slumber parties for the next few years. In an ideal world, we'd have a new Friday the 13th movie hitting theaters today (the logic of which I never got - why not release them a week BEFORE their namesake day and get a second weekend boost?), but this is a perfectly decent consolation prize for adults, and thus teens will probably like it even more.

The plot is hokey, but so is "a guy kills you in your dreams" and "a videotape will kill you if you watch it", so I'm baffled by the people rolling their eyes at the damn premise. As the trailers promise, our protagonists are playing Truth or Dare, and if they lie or refuse the dare, then they're killed. It's kind of Final Destination-lite, in fact - once our heroes realize the stakes are real and that there's an "order", they find ways to stay alive while the curse moves on to the next person, then cycles back when necessary. We learn some other rules along the way, including one that states that they can't just keep picking "truth" (once they realize the dares they're given are often quite dangerous); if two people in a row pick truth, the next has to do a dare. This does more than just mix up the film's pattern - it actually ties into the heroine's arc.

See, our traditional hero Olivia, played by Lucy Hale, is the totally selfless type who plans to use her spring break going to Habitat for Humanity, and when asked if she'd spare her friends if it meant wiping out an entire country of strangers, she tells her friends they're goners. So even when she can pick "truth" and merely tell a friend something they probably don't want to hear, she chooses dare in order to make things safer for her next two friends in line. Once the demon (of course it's a demon behind everything) figures that out, it uses it against her - daring her to tell the truth, heh. I mean it's not the point and it's going to go over the heads of its target audience, but the underlying theme of the movie is to stick by the people who care about you instead of trying to please strangers (her passion for her Youtube channel is another underplayed element of this), and she ultimately learns her lesson, albeit only after a number of her friends are killed.

As for the others, they're the usual gaggle of stock characters in these things: Markie the blonde best friend, Ronnie the horny asshole no one likes, Veronica the lush, Brad the minority (OK to be fair there are two this time, but they double down by making the Asian guy gay as well), etc. But they're fairly likable versions of these people; even the asshole guy is kind of charming in his own way, and (spoiler? it's in the trailer) he's the first to go, so it's not like we have to put up with him for that long anyway. At first I was ready to write the whole lot of them off when signs of yet another goddamn love triangle reared their cliched heads, with Olivia clearly gazing at Markie's boyfriend, but instead of just a generic way to introduce strife, it's actually kind of a thru-line for the entire movie, and part of the game as well. For starters, nothing's happened between Olivia and the guy - she just has feelings for him that she can't act upon, because she cares about her best friend more (this makes her, I believe, the first modern horror movie character who seemingly cares more about their best friend than getting laid). Second, Markie is constantly cheating on the guy with randoms, trusting Olivia to cover for her - making Olivia's feelings even harder to deal with, as she could easily get what she wanted and not even feel that guilty since Markie's the one in the wrong anyway.

Anyway, this stuff keeps coming back into the game, so again it's just not a lazy excuse for people to be mad at each other and thus go off on their own to get killed. The demon uses it against both of them and the boyfriend at every opportunity, to the point where I was genuinely unsure who, if any of them, would survive, and if they would end up together or not. Plus in between their scare moments we get the more straight forward deaths of their pals, with the demon using their own issues (such as Brad's fear of telling his father that he's gay, or Veronica's drinking habit) to conjure up some psychologically driven dares. Eventually it bogs down to the usual "Oh look online here's an article about this old church and blah blah we have to blah blah ritual" stuff we've seen in a zillion others, but the fact that the characters aren't all jerks and that their death scenes are intrinsically linked to their personal demons (as opposed to the random nonsense of things like Wish Upon) make it more compelling than I originally assumed, keeping my interest. I mean, due to the way the theater was designed and the fact that no one was in my row I could have looked at Twitter or something during the movie without anyone seeing/being bothered, and I DIDN'T. The word "hero" gets thrown around a lot, but...

To be fair, you do have to overlook a couple of dumb things, like the fact that the old lady they go to for exposition has a granddaughter, even though the backstory is that she was a nun at age 19 who cut her tongue out and went crazy, so I dunno when she found time/interest to get knocked up after that. The actors playing the two parents we see are both remarkably terrible; thankfully their screentime is kept to a minimum but considering their importance to their children's storylines it's a bit of an issue that they both seem to be meeting them for the first time in their scenes. And I get the concept of using a Snapchat-y looking filter effect on the faces of the people who are possessed by the game, but it's not creepy at all and overused anyway. I suppose if they used it sparingly it might just produce laughter when sprung on the audience, so at least we get numb to it by the halfway point if not sooner, but it's an odd gamble to take. I mean everyone looks like they are victims of Joker's gas in the Burton Batman, but even they were creepier since it was an appliance instead of a CGI effect (not to mention an unexplained one - why are they all smiling? They just love Truth or Dare that much?)

But they're not fatal flaws - the biggest obstacle it has is that there have been a lot of these "supernatural curse targets a group of friends" type movies in the past couple years (Friend Request, Wish Upon, Bye Bye Man, Rings, Ouija, and Unfriended all came to mind more than once, plus Polaroid, which would have been released if not for Dimension's legal woes), and I'm not sure if "the characters are better written than usual" or "the death scenes aren't throwaway things that look cool" is enough to convince folks to show up. Quiet Place is also only a week old (and, to be fair, better) so it can't coast on starved audiences the way Ouija was able to when it had Halloween time all to itself for reasons I can't recall, and "Jeff Wadlow's best film!" isn't exactly a huge hurdle to clear, either. Basically, it's not great, but it's better than I figured it would be when I sat down (and saw the goddamned Sicario 2 trailer for the dozenth time - yet I still haven't seen one for Bad Samaritan which supposedly opens in three weeks), and I wish it was opening at a time when it had no competition so it would shine a little brighter - or that it was merely just a touch better so I could give it a stronger endorsement without sounding crazy. But the ending is admirably gonzo, if that helps?

What say you?

*It's actually called "Blumhouse's Truth or Dare" on-screen, which is ridiculous. Don't start doing this, guys. Hopefully it's just a one-time thing because of the other movies with that title, but if not... just don't.

PLEASE, GO ON...

A Quiet Place (2018)

APRIL 3, 2018

GENRE: MONSTER, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (ADVANCED SCREENING)

The scariest horror movies are usually the simplest - people (including me) may love the Saw sequels, but they're never scary in the slightest, because they're too bogged down in their labyrinthine plots to lull you into being frightened. I'm not sure why so many horror movie writers seem to be ignorant of this, but thankfully, John Krasinski of all people isn't one of them, as his newest film A Quiet Place (his first foray into the genre) is so stripped down to its bare essentials that it practically makes the likes of Halloween and The Strangers seem complicated in comparison. The earth's population has been decimated by monsters that will kill you if you make a sound, and Krasinski is the father of a family trying to survive under those circumstances - that's it. There's no human villain, no team of scientists babbling on, it's just a few days in the lives of these people living out their very quiet life, and how they react when things go astray.

And Krasinski (along with original writers Bryan Woods amd Scott Beck) conveys this without much of an ability to say so, since there are only about a dozen spoken lines in the film. A few newspaper headlines clue us into the monsters' origins (a crashed meteor, not that it matters but I'm sure some joyless twerp would complain otherwise), but the "rules" are laid out in an opening sequence - along with the consequences for breaking them. I liken it to an old arcade game like Pac-Man or Space Invaders - you didn't need tutorials or manuals for those games, as they were simple and quick to grasp just from looking at their basic layout. It's the same thing here; even if you went in blind, it'd only take a few minutes to understand the plot, which is that our heroes need to be very quiet or else they'll die. Communication is carried out through sign language, every action is done gingerly (I never thought I could tense up watching someone try to put a battery down on a counter, but I have now), and you damn well better watch your step to avoid creaky floorboards and the like.

As for the creatures, their design is a mixed bag. They move so fast it's often hard to get a good look at them, but they're kind of like Xenomorph shaped, with heads that unfold like flower petals to reveal their well tuned eardrums (in fact, since they're blind and seemingly can't smell their prey, their heads are basically just giant ears), i.e. kind of generic all purpose modern movie monsters, nothing iconic that you'd instantly recognize ten years later. I couldn't tell if they ever had any practical ones, but I don't think they do, which is a bummer but at least it's high quality CGI and they're used sparingly, plus there's no real "interaction" to speak of - if they're close enough to touch you you're already dead anyway. But it's not free of analog's pleasures - Krasinski and DP Charlotte Bruus Christensen shot on film, and it looks spectacular, in addition to giving it that old-school look the plot itself invoked. If not for an iPod the film could have been set in the 1970s (and to even it out, the song they listen to on it is an oldie: Neil Young's "Harvest Moon"), and I swear it was to give the film that bit of humanity (Krasinski and wife Emily Blunt dance to it, sharing the earbuds) that he didn't just go ahead and make it a period piece.

But look there could be hovercrafts and VR displays on every corner and it wouldn't take away from the main appeal: the movie is scary as all hell. And if you've been reading my nonsense for these past eleven years (Christ...), you should know that's not something I say often. Think of all those great "don't make a sound" kind of scenes in movies (not horror, but the "suspended over the computer" scene from Mission: Impossible would be a good example) as well as every super nerve-wracking monster scene (like when the aliens finally come through the roof in Signs, or the basement scene in War of the Worlds), and string them together/stretch them out for a feature, and that's what you get here. It's also the rare use of LOUD SOUNDS to make a scare that actually makes contextual sense - when someone accidentally knocks something over or steps on a crunchy thing, the sound team cranks up the sound, and for good reason, because every noise might as well be the loudest thing possible, being that the monsters can detect it instantly and move at lightning fast speed to catch you.

Even better, it might be the first horror movie that's cell-phone or talk proof, too. It's not like the film is mute; there's a score and things like wind rustling or water dripping - i.e. rhythmic, natural sounds - don't set them off, but it only takes a few minutes for the film to start affecting your own behavior. I took a sip of my drink and it slurped a bit, so I instantly froze up, and I noticed the lady next to me being oh so cautious as she removed her sweater to put it on the seat next to her. I'm sure there will be assholes ruining it somewhere in the world, but as this was a free radio station screening and I didn't see a single cell light the entire time (and only minimal whispering, though it was a big auditorium so perhaps I just got lucky), there's hope that your crowd will be just as into it and playing along with the whole "shut up or die" approach. The movie only offers spoken dialogue twice; Krasinski and his son talk for a bit behind the masking sound of a waterfall, and the former shares a conversation with his wife in their tiny somewhat soundproof room that they've set up. The rest of the time, any noise you make is liable to get a dirty look from one of your fellow moviegoers, so it's best to follow the rules.

I recently joined Letterboxd, more for my own memory to keep track of what I saw over the year, and thus had to start rating films. I gave this four (out of five), and it woulda been four and a half (fives are reserved for my all time faves) if not for two things. One is, ironically, the score - it's got a lot of that BWAARMMMMMMMM stuff I dislike and it's just kind of generic, so it was intrusive given the whole "quiet" nature of the thing. There's one pretty good cue near the end during a key moment involving the family truck, but otherwise I woulda been happier if Krasinski opted to have no score at all. The other one requires a spoiler about the opening scene, so if you want total blindness skip the rest of this paragraph. For those still here, the opener is a gut-wrenching moment, when a careless action from their youngest son ends his life, and it largely works - but only because the parents inexplicably walk ahead of their two children, one of whom is deaf. I get why Krasinski would want to lead the way, but why Blunt is right behind him instead of her children, who cannot call for help (and in the deaf one's case, hear any danger behind her) is a complete goddamn mystery. I get that they had to hammer home the consequences early on so that we knew just how careful they had to be, but I wish they had figured out a more logical way of presenting it. Still, at least the movie's biggest narrative blunder is at the top instead of the end; I had mostly forgotten about it by the time it was over.

Otherwise, I was totally on board with the film. Sure, if you start thinking about what we don't see you might have questions, like how they were able to establish their routine without making noise to implement it, i.e. stringing up warning lights and setting up radio equipment, and if you've seen the trailer you know that Blunt's character is pregnant, so that raises some possible logic flaws (I satisfied myself by assuming it was an accidental pregnancy and they had neither the knowledge or resolve to terminate it). But 99% of all movies have those kind of issues, and you're kind of missing the point if you try to go beyond what they're showing. It's a scary movie first and foremost, designed to keep you grabbing your armrest or partner's hand for 90 minutes while reminding people like me that you're never above being frightened by what's on screen. I wouldn't be surprised if it grossed over $100m, and I hope it's the start of a new, more Blumhouse-y direction for Platinum Dunes (yep, this deliberately paced, quiet movie was produced by none other than Michael Bay). Plus it's nice to see Paramount getting a win after all their troubles - it's a shame they already blew their chance at doing another Friday the 13th, but that just gives them more incentive to create new ideas like this.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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